Confessions of a City Girl
9 Dec 2009
Barbara Stcherbatcheff, author of “Confessions of a City Girl”, looks back at the experience of publishing her first book.
In publishing terms, it seems unfathomable that only 12 months ago I sat down and started writing an autobiographical account of my time working in the City of London during the financial crisis. Except for my anonymous “City Girl” column in the London Paper, and a few contributions to other magazines such as Vanity Fair, I had never written anything before.
It was late 2008: many of my colleagues were getting laid off in the City; banks were merging, liquidating, or being bailed out to the tune of billions. I was a 26-year old derivatives consultant. It was probably the least opportune moment to be taking a career risk by writing a book. But I endured.
The rule went that getting a book published was excruciatingly difficult, a drawn-out process filled with rejection letters, heartbreak and dead ends. But as with any manuscript that is extremely topical, “City Girl” was an exception to the rule. From the day I found an agent until the day I laid eyes on the book’s glossy, finished package, it was only five months.
In February 2009, I went about finding agents. My strategy was unsophisticated, but productive nonetheless. I went through the “Writers and Artists” manual and emailed about 25 – 30 of the top agents a few paragraphs about my manuscript idea and background. I heard back from almost everyone - was rejected by most but accepted by a few of the major players, including Darley Anderson, and eventually settled on Andrew Lownie, who shared my vision that publishing need not move on dinosaur time and the market for “City Girl” was now.
In March, Andrew held an auction between 14 publishers for “City Girl” and the highest bidder was Virgin Books.The publication date was set for August 13th, and the contracts were signed. But the real work had just begun.
I underestimated the amount of time and energy it would take to get my manuscript in sellable condition. I assumed that when I submitted my final draft by their extremely tight April 30th deadline, I would kick my feet up and prepare for the publicity blitz that would accompany my big “reveal” in early August.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. The next few months was a whirlwind of libel lawyers, trademark lawyers, editors, copy editors. How would my ex-employers react? My ex-colleagues? Ex-husband? Surely these parties would run out and buy it, see themselves in it, and come to one of two conclusions: it was entertaining, harmless fun, or it was it litigious, contentious drama.
As with any non-fiction novel, my editors and I did our best to make sure every person or institution was disguised as much as possible – to the point where some of the most interesting anecdotes were deleted – but this process is never 100% certain to make everyone happy, nor deter every lawsuit.
As a first-time author, you have very little control over your book’s final, glossy package. There were a number of touchy points between my publishers and I: I wanted my name on the cover, with my picture on the back. They wanted mystery – a “Belle de Jour” for finance. I wanted to keep all my profound cures for the recession – from why the over-the-counter derivative market was a scam, to Value at Risk models. They deleted anything remotely academic.
Yet everyone could agree upon one, crucial aspect of “City Girl:” the cover. I was satisfied with the hot pink high heels, sexy legs and the row of monochrome black shoes those legs and heels overshadowed. It expressed the essence of the book - female empowerment – better than anything I could have imagined.
Getting my first book published in such a short period of time has been a dizzying but eye-opening experience. I remember the thrill at seeing my book showcased in WH Smith for the first time this August, and the wave of accomplishment I felt. “City Girl” was nothing more than a pipe dream as late as February this year.
The most important lesson I took away from the publication process was that every time I thought the hard work was over, there was more work to be done. Books need to be promoted or else they languish. Though the day of publication, the launch party and the excitement was fun, I realized that months of promotions lay ahead.
“City Girl” has sold extremely well throughout the UK, making the Sunday Times Bestseller list and topping the business charts next to Richard Branson and Warren Buffett. The press coverage has been terrific (TV/radio/print) in all Western European countries, and a number of film and TV studios have also inquired about the rights.
All the hard work for “City Girl” has paid off in the end. I’m rewarded when I receive emails from female readers who are inspired to become more assertive and confident, to pursue their dream job, or from men who tell me they didn’t expect to like it (because of the hot pink heels) but instead, they couldn’t put it down. Ultimately, “City Girl” was meant to make financial culture accessible to the average person – and I think I’ve done just that.
Barbara Stcherbatcheff, author of “Confessions of a City Girl” (Virgin Books, £13.99). www.theblackswan.com